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Body size variation in a lineage of spur-thighed tortoises (Testudo graeca whitei) contrasts with that expected from the species level

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posted on 2024-02-07, 10:39 authored by Mohamed Jaouhar Semaha, Roberto C. Rodríguez-Caro, Soumia Fahd, Andrea Mira-Jover, Andrés Giménez, Eva Graciá

Ectotherms exhibit varying geographic size patterns shaped by environmental and evolutionary factors. This variability is noticeable within taxonomic groups. For instance, certain testudinids follow Bergmann's rule (body size increases with latitude) and Rensch's rule (sexual size dimorphism correlates with body size), while others do not. Here we hypothesize that body size patterns can even vary within a monophyletic lineage. To address this, we evaluated the body size patterns of the spur-thighed tortoise Testudo graeca that globally follows Bergmann’s and Rensch’s rules. We specifically investigated the influence of climate variables, latitude and elevation within the subspecies T. g. whitei throughout its natural distribution in North Africa, and in a recently expanded range in SE Spain (20 kya old). We found that males were smaller than females in both regions. The tortoises from SE Spain were smaller than those from North Africa, which showcased the smallest sizes ever reported for the species. Latitude was the main variable to explain tortoise body size. In particular, body size decreased with latitude in both regions, which contrasts with Bergmann’s rule expectations based on species-level findings. Finally, to further contradict species-level expectations, we did not find any statistical correlation between sexual size dimorphism and body size across the two studied regions. Such contradictory outcomes reveal complex geographic size patterns within T. graeca and raise conservation questions about demographic viability at smaller-sized sites.

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